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I believe in doing things at my own (often glacial) pace. My ears are indeed tuned to pick up the sound of a different drummer. Hence the very late message that this particular blog shall be considered dormant. Yet the miracle of a seed is that after years of dormancy, given the right conditions, it will germinate. After two long silent winters in the earth, something different has taken root and unfurled in the sun: I have been blogging under another guise for nearly a year.

Thanks for reading. I hope in the meantime you too have experienced many serendipitous transformations.


There was no post on Wednesday due to a crisis. The featured recipe was to be a plum flaugnarde. To define flaugnarde, it is necessary to describe clafoutis. In the Limousin region of France, clafoutis is a baked dessert made of cherries blanketed by custard. The pits are left in the cherries as they are thought to contribute to the flavor. A flaugnarde is simply a clafoutis made with any other kind of fruit.

My intention was to make a flaugnarde with a mixture of Italian plums and greengage plums (Prunus domestica var. italica), or Ringlotten, as they are called here. The word Ringlotte is a corruption of reine claude (Queen Claude), the French term for this variety of plum that was first cultivated in Moissac, France in the 16th century. The cultivar was named after Queen Claude (1499-1524), the short-lived duchess of Brittany and wife of King François I. Since Sir Thomas Greengage brought this variety from France to England in the 18th century, it bears his name in English. The greengages that I bought at the market were labelled Bertigamer, a sort that the seller told me was quite old. Unfortunately, precursory research into Bertigamer – where they came from, the history of their cultivation in Austria – has been unfruitful so far.

The real problem, however, was the custard crisis. Though I followed the free-standing custard ratio of 2 parts liquid to one part egg in Michael Ruhlman’s Ratio, I ended up with a flaugnarde that tasted good but whose consistency left a lot to be desired. A second attempt with less milk also failed to achieve a firm, solid custard layer, but the third time (with a roughly 1:1 ratio plus some cornstarch just to be safe) was the charm.

Mixed Plum Flaugnarde

Ingredients

650 g mixed plums (I used Zwetschken and Bertigamer Ringlotten)

3 eggs

150 ml (3/4 c) milk and/or heavy cream (I used half milk, half Schlagobers)

2 Tbs red wine

75 g (½ c) whole wheat flour

30 g (¼ c) ground walnuts

2 Tbs sugar

1 Tbs cornstarch

a pinch of salt

Cut the plums in half and arrange in a tart pan.

In a bowl, beat the eggs, milk, and wine together. Stir in the rest of the ingredients one at a time, making sure the batter doesn’t clump together.

Pour the batter over the plums.

Bake at 180°C (350°F) for 50 minutes or until the custard has set and is attractively browned.

Devour.


Egg-shaped and smooth, Italian plums, or Zwetschken, have a bluish-purple skin and yellow flesh that gradually darkens as the fruit ripens. It is easy to remove the pit; in fruit parlance they are freestone. Thursday I had the pleasure of picking two kilos here in town.

Italian plums are the most widespread variety of plum in Austria. In addition to referring to Prunus domestica var. domestica/oeconomica, the word Zwetschken is sometimes used as a catchall phrase to refer to all subspecies of Prunus domestica. They are enjoyed fresh, baked in cakes, hidden in dumplings (see my recipe for Marillenknödel – simply substitute an Italian plum for an apricot), fermented to make Slibowitz or Zwetschkenschnaps (plum brandy), or transformed into Zwetschkenröster, a traditional compote made of stewed Italian plums.

This drupe is integrated not only into the cuisine but also into the language. Mein lieber Freund und Zwetschkenröster (my dear friend and stewed Italian plums) is an Austrian expression used as a warning to address someone whose behavior you find increasingly irritating. It’s a way of saying “I’d watch it if I were you.” If you have your seven plums together (seine sieben Zwetschken beinander haben), it means you have your act together.

Well, this weekend I got my seven plums together and made jam by myself for the first time, independent of the neighborhood jam-making guild as I did the first and second time. I feel I have now earned the right to the title of master jam-maker, or Marmeladen-Meisterin! My first batch was Ringlottenmarmelade, my second a variation on Zwetschkenröster with red wine, cinnamon, and cloves. Ringlotten are a kind of plum that I will describe in more detail in my next post, but now after all this action in the kitchen, I am plum(b) tired. Here are pictures of the fruit of my labor this weekend. And now it is time to stop before the puns get any worse…

Last time I wrote of death; this time I write of marriage. The Chinese believe that when peach trees are in blossom, it is an auspicious time to marry. Fertility symbols, peaches appear on wedding gifts, often in combination with…bats. Whereas bats represent the masculine principle, peach blossoms and fruit signify the feminine. Perhaps the association arose from the observation of nature; before the cultivation of these drupes, bats helped propagate the trees by dispersing the seeds.

The word for bat, fu, sounds like the Chinese word for good fortune or happiness. It is common to find images of five bats flying around a peach. The bats symbolize the five blessings of long life, prosperity, health, love of virtue, and a peaceful, natural death; the peach stands for longevity and immortality.

I won’t claim that preparing today’s recipe will result in either a marriage offer or immortality, but it may lead to a happiness that lasts until you see the bottom of your soup bowl.


Peaches and Cream Soup, or Drupe Soup 2

Ingredients

1 kilo (4 c) chopped peaches

250 ml (1 c) Grüner Veltliner or another white wine

8-12 lemon verbena leaves

2 Tbs honey

4 Tbs heavy cream or Schlagobers

Bring the peaches, wine, and 3-4 verbena leaves to a boil. Simmer for 10-15 minutes until the peaches are tender. Let them cool off. Remove the leaves.

Purée the peach mixture with the remaining leaves, honey, and cream.

Chill for at least an hour and serve cold.

In his essay Der Pfirsichbaum (The Peach Tree), Hermann Hesse mourns the loss of a peach tree due to a storm, commenting on the fragile nature of this species and expressing his disappointment that trees don’t behave much differently than human beings.

Sie werden ja nicht sehr alt, diese Bäume, und gehören nicht zu den Riesen und Helden, sie sind zart und anfällig, gegen Verletzungen überempfindlich, ihr herziger Saft hat etwas von alten, überzüchtetem Adelsblut…Ach, daß auch auf Bäume kein Verlaß ist, daß auch sie einem abhanden kommen, einem wegsterben, einen eines Tages im Stich lassen und ins große Dunkel hinüber verschwinden können!

(They don’t become very old, these trees, and are not among the giants and heroes, they are tender and delicate and oversensitive to injuries, their sweet juice has something of old overbred noble blood…Oh, there is no relying on trees either, they are also lost to you, they die on you, one day they abandon you and disappear into the great darkness beyond!)

When Goethe died in 1832, he left behind a to-do list for his garden. Point 4 reads: “Ausgraben der ausgestorbenen Pfirsichbäume und Vorbereitung der Löcher zur Weinanpflanzung daselbst.” (Unearth the dead peach trees and prepare the holes for the planting of vines.)

On the subject of death, decay, and impermanence, the word crumble means to disintegrate into small pieces or to break down completely. It also refers to a delightful dessert of fresh fruit covered with a topping that is baked. Toppings vary greatly. I make lots of crumbles, and they always include rolled oats. Lately the composition of my topping has become even more minimalistic, not much more than oats and butter, though you could also add flour, nuts, or sugar. Don’t rely on the following crumble sticking around long – it is ephemeral and will disappear swiftly!

Peach-Port Crumble

Ingredients

1 kilo (1/2 lb.) peaches, peeled and sliced

2 Tbs cornstarch

50 ml (¼ c) port wine

180 g (2 c) rolled oat flakes and/or rolled spelt flakes

½ ts cardamom

½ ts salt

80 g (6 Tbs) melted butter

Arrange the sliced peaches in a tart or pie pan.


In a small glass, dissolve the cornstarch in the port. Pour over the peaches and stir to coat.

Mix the rolled oats, cardamom, and salt. Add the melted butter. Spoon the topping onto the fruit.

Bake at 200°C (400°F) for 25-30 minutes.

Ajvar accolades

Among gardeners, there is so much hype surrounding tomatoes. Yet I prefer to watch peppers grow and ripen, finding the changes in color somehow more exciting. The same amount of space in my garden is devoted to each of these vegetables this year, but the two pepper plants – both gifts – are stealing the show. The red pepper plant is a Styrian heirloom variety, Ochsenhorn (ox horn). All peppers – including bell and chili – belong to the species Capsicum annuum. Like tomatoes, they are nightshades that originated in the Americas.

Last year I had one container with one eggplant plant that produced just one fruit. I couldn’t decide what to do with it. I couldn’t bear to pick it because it was My First Eggplant and I wanted to admire it just a bit longer. I was so proud. It was so beautiful.

The first frost came and went, and, well, let’s be honest: it was clear that the eggplant had passed its prime and that I had missed the time window to harvest it. Plan B: I decided I would leave it as an offering to the vegetable gods so that this summer, I would not be plagued by aphids as I was last year.

This must have appeased the vegetable gods because this year I have had few problems with aphids. But a variation of the same story is unfolding this summer on my balcony; my red pepper plant has only produced one fruit this year. Though unlike last year, this one is going to be harvested and eaten with relish!

The second pepper plant is producing numerous hot chilis despite the fact that it is still growing in the plastic container I received it in. The fruit will eventually turn orange, and then I will come to a new crossroads in my culinary career at which an important decision must be made.

I have never cooked with fresh chilis because I am afraid of unconsciously rubbing my eye after cutting a chili pepper and blinding myself or of some other freak accident occurring along those lines. Doesn’t this sound familiar to the reasons I came up with for not making jam on my own? Should I take the plunge and overcome my irrational fear of chili peppers? They’re a lot smaller than me, after all. It can’t be all that difficult, can it? Maybe it’s even as easy as making ajvar.

An accessible yet august ajvar

Ajvar, a vegetable relish made of roasted peppers, eggplant, oil, and garlic, is widespread throughout the Balkans. Most recipes call for a pepper-eggplant ratio of 2:1 or 3:1, which I ignored since I just had one of each to spare. The name comes from the Turkish havyar, meaning caviar. I brought it to share at a gathering the other day and was amazed at how many compliments I received for something so simple.

Ingredients

1 eggplant

1 red pepper

3 garlic cloves

1 Tbs olive oil

1 Tbs chopped walnuts

¼ ts salt

cayenne pepper or chilis to taste

Cut the eggplant and pepper in half lengthwise. Place face down on a baking sheet. Roast in the oven for 30 minutes at 180°C (350°F) or until the skins have black spots.

Let the vegetables cool down. Remove the skins.

In a food processor, purée the vegetables, garlic, oil, walnuts, and salt. Some like it hot, and if you’re one of these people, add cayenne pepper or chilis to taste.

Serve on pitas, Turkish Fladenbrot, foccacia, or a similar bread of your choice. Ajvar goes well with goat or sheep’s cheese and olives too.

There has been a request for a recipe using peaches. The markets currently abound with peaches of all sorts including Redhavens, Weinbergpfirsiche and Honigpfirsiche. More aromatic than sweet, Weinbergpfirsiche grow in vineyards. Almost forgotten by the eighties, they have enjoyed a comeback. Their flesh is white instead of the usual yellow, though there is also a red variety which I haven’t tried. Honigpfirsiche, or honey peaches, which I saw yesterday for the first time, have a rather unusual shape (the picture above shows a honey peach on the left and a Redhaven on the right).

Prunus persica originated in China, where is it associated with longevity. Peaches are drupes with rough seeds, though there are two kinds of cultivars, clingstone and freestone. As their names suggest, they differ in how much effort is necessary to separate the flesh from the pit. Bruising easily, they are a delicate fruit that do not handle extremes well, preferring temperatures between -15°C and 30°C. The difference between a peach and a nectarine is slight; they belong to the same species. Due to a recessive gene, however, a nectarine has a smooth skin instead of the typical peach fuzz.

In English, the expression peach fuzz refers to a small amount of hair. I associate it with adolescent boys when they start to grow facial hair. If someone is a peach, he or she is sweet and helpful. And if everything is peachy keen, life is good.

Everything was peachy keen after I took the first bite of the moist poundcake below. Poundcakes are traditionally made of one pound each of butter, sugar, eggs, and flour. I stuck with this ratio more or less. Since I was out of sugar, in went the honey. Since amaretto blends well with peaches, in went the liqueur.

And the poppy seeds…A week ago I perused a cookbook about traditional food from Chernivtsi, which is today a part of Ukraine but a hundred years ago was the capital of Bukovina and part of the monarchy. On August 14, Swjato Makoweja, a poppy seed festival, is celebrated. Water, poppy seeds, flowers, and herbs are blessed in a special church ceremony bidding farewell to the summer. In honor of the harvest and the end of summer, then, here is a peach-poppy seed poundcake recipe for you to enjoy.

Peach-poppy seed poundcake

Ingredients

190 g (7 oz.) butter

200 g (2/3 c) honey

4 eggs, beaten

200 g (1 2/3 c) flour

½ ts mace

1 ts baking powder

30 g (¼ c) poppy seeds

a few Tbs ground almonds

pinch of salt

50 ml (¼ c) amaretto

4-5 peaches, peeled and diced

Soften the butter. Cream the butter and honey together. Add the eggs, then the amaretto.

In a separate bowl, combine the dry ingredients. Add to the wet batter. Stir just to combine.

Mix in the peaches with a spoon. Pour into a buttered loaf or bundt pan.

Bake for about 60 minutes at 180°C (350°F) until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean.

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